The Cleveland Browns decided Monday to put longtime dead man walking Hue Jackson out of his misery, sparking the inevitable speculation about Lincoln Riley ditching the Oklahoma Sooners for the NFL and a reunion with Baker Mayfield.
For his part, Riley did the deal where he talked about being happy at his current job qualified with “right now.” Of course, that leaves the door open for him to head off to the pros when that qualifier changes. It also positions Riley for a new contract in the near future. (After Nick Saban’s flirtation with Alabama 11 years ago, I suspect coaches denying interest in other jobs doesn’t count for much now anyway.)
I don’t know what Riley envisions for his future, but who could begrudge him if he did want a shot at the next level? However, I would question his state of mind if he willingly signed up to work for Browns owner Jimmy Haslam or Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys, another of Riley’s rumored admirers.
Given the annual Bob Stoops-to-the-NFL rumor mongering, that OU fans lived through for about two decades, I know how tiresome doing this dance can be. In the bigger picture, though, I take it as a sign of a program’s health when other teams want to poach your coach.
When these rumors come up, I do find it amusing to hear how quickly people assume a coach would drop OU for another opportunity. In reality, very few of the jobs put forward as being superior to coaching the Sooners – Michigan, Texas, Florida – can boast the level of stability and success experienced in Norman in the last 20 years, let alone in the history of college football. The reasons for that include a great athletic director in Joe Castiglione and plenty of resources.
If Riley flamed out in the NFL, hoping to find a college job on par with the one he has now would be a much bigger gamble than many people realize.